May 14, 2021
I spent several nights in the hospital with Melissa this last week. What struck me most throughout the entire experience was the incredible compassion of all her nurses. The tight restrictions that had been in place have been relaxed, but there are still guidelines that are in force. They have specific visiting hours and limit the number of visitors per day for each person. Despite the restrictions, the nurses allowed me to spend the night before the procedure with her in the room. I went home after the procedure, but things did not go well that first night, and she asked if I could stay with her the next night in ICU. The nurses told me this was about Melissa and anything they could do to make her feel safe was OK. She had another long night, but things went better the following day. The nurses even asked to have a curtesy tray brought to me, so I had meals while I was in the room. I was grateful.
One thing I noticed during my stay was the relatively young age of the nurses. When I looked online, I found that was generally true for the night staff. The day shift usually has more experienced nurses because they had worked nights as new hires and have waited to get a position on days. That is not to say that there are not experienced nurses who work nights by choice. Nights are generally not as hectic as days, but you also only have about 2/3 the staff than the day shift. That means more patients and less staff. The patients do not get the same level of care as they do on days (hourly checks during the day and every two hours at night), and the staff is less experienced. That puts enormous responsibility on the young nurses who have not had any exposure to the different scenarios that can happen at night, and often do not have experienced nurses as a resource. These are what gives them “experience.” That makes their level of compassion even more amazing.
In our case, it was true for both day and night. None of the nurses I saw were older than 30 somethings. During the day there were what appeared to be trainees (early 20’s) who were shadowing experienced nurses (early 30’s). When I asked my sister (Nurse Practitioner, Public Health) if this was true across the board, she confirmed it was. As nurses gain experience, some move into administrative positions and others decide to take less stressful and/or less strenuous jobs. Registered nursing is the largest occupation in the US health care industry, with more than 3 million employed as of May 2019, and most of those jobs were in hospital environments. A hospital nurse’s wages vary depending on the type of hospital where they are employed and the region of the country where they work. Along with teaching, this is another one of those jobs where no matter what they make, it is not enough.
Thoughts: My sister mentioned that her daughter who works as an ICU nurse is taking a strength building course. Overweight people tend to be sicker, and the percentage of our country is moving closer toward obesity every year. It takes strength to muscle people around in their beds. Like many jobs, this is not taught in school. It is something nurses learn through experience. Being essential and on the front lines rarely translates into being well paid. We leave that to those who are the CEO’s and administrators who do not have contact with patients. Perhaps we should redefine who the essential workers are and pay them accordingly. Do the work. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.